A quest for emotional connections through the screen

With a proliferation of on demand content making scheduled television ever more an irrelevance and most households now owning multiple devices for accessing TV programmes, it’s not surprising that that TV viewing is no longer the social occasion it once was.

However, in recent research we have conducted amongst audience of people aged 18-60 who primarily consume content digitally, we have found that the desire for socialising and connecting with other people through the viewing of media, is still strong. But amongst this ‘unbound audience’ how they choose to socialise is changing. Before the days of skulking off to your bedroom to watch Netflix on the iPad people would sit down and watch programmes together. Now they seek emotional connections through their screen.

I watched Zoella and I just really liked her. It was just interesting watching the life of someone who’s a similar age to me but she was a normal person. She was just so accessible and so relatable and she has similar interests to a normal girl my age, like liking the same shops as me.
— Female, 22

There appears to be a shift in the type of content that consumers are accessing as they move from highly produced TV programmes to user created content such as YouTube video blogs (vlogs). With this is the growing acceptance for content that is more rough and ready in how it is delivered. By being imperfect viewers are able to relate to the content and the creator better; something that is increasingly important in this socially fragmented modern world.

I personally prefer interaction that isn’t perfect. I like it when it’s a bit rough or quirky and more human.
— Male, 33

Further to this, we’re seeing a change in the amount of time that viewers are willing to give over to content. With the likes of Twitter and its 140 character news bites and short articles that can be accessed while making a cup of tea, there is now the expectation that video content should follow this pattern of being in bite-sized chunks. This is evidenced by the popularity growth of vloggers such as Philip DeFranco who offers a whole day’s worth of news and opinion to his audience in 8 minutes or less.

“Phones fit with your on-the-go lifestyle. I can go and make a cup of tea and have a quick look at the news. I can have it all in bite-sized chunks in 140 characters and at the touch of a button.” Male 27

This shift in content type and length has important implications for creators if they want to stay relevant to a growing audience of people looking for something imperfect, relatable and quick. What this means is that platforms like Netflix, with content that they create themselves aimed specifically at the unbound audience, need to be looking into content that fits with this new style of viewing experience to prevent their customers from drifting into YouTube.